So far, 2017 has been a big year for digital marketing and audience engagement with the 10th anniversary of the Apple iPhone and the rise of Blockchain from digital currency engine to disrupter in digital marketing.
Looking ahead, it’s time to break out the crystal ball to see what marketers need to keep up with today’s entitled consumers and deliver consumer-first marketing next year.
Here are Selligent’s Seven Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2018, plus the Mega Trend and Wild Card that will figure front and center:

1. Hyper-personalization for a single contact/person
With permission from data-savvy consumers, brands are mining rich data footprints from online user behavior and leveraging it into new and and exciting ways to further adapt to specific user needs. And, as new biometric technologies and access becomes the norm, spearheaded by facial recognition on the latest Apple iPhone, consumers can expect brands to rush to create tailor-made, custom brand experiences in 2018.

2. Live video coverage and online events become marketing staples
Even while video streaming accounts for 75 percent of online traffic (KPCB), live videos offer the maximum value for marketers right now. The numbers are clear: Consumers spend 300 percent more time watching live video over pre-recorded content (Facebook), and 82 percent consumers prefer branded live video over other social media formats (LiveStream). Just be sure to trigger mobile alerts (see 4.) when a live event is about to go down.   

3. Data-savvy and security-conscious customers
Consumers are willing to share personal data for better experiences but brands better keep it under wraps. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union comes into effect on May 2018 and further raises the bar on data safety (read also our primer on Marketing Data Privacy).
But GDPR affects brands even beyond EU borders, and instead of dreading GDPR, brands can use it to strengthen customer relationships. With its built-in Accountability Principle, GDPR presents an opportunity to win customers’ trust – and outperform the competition – by creating transparent data collection policies. Meanwhile, data breaches like the recent Equifax hack are today’s Exxon Valdez-style PR-disasters.

WILDCARD TREND: Audio content strikes back
Video is still king (YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google after all), but here’s a wildcard trend to look out for next year: Driven by music streaming subscription services and voice-operated assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, audio content marketing is on the rise and may be too “loud” to ignore.

4. Providing consumer utility via personalized mobile messaging
Convenience and frictionless customer experiences are a must for engaging consumers today and marketers are responding by leveraging mobile message integration to deliver convenience at every step of the consumer journey. Delivered via Whatsapp, Line, Wechat, GroupMe, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and good old text messages, over 69 percent of digital media engagement occurs using mobile devices (ComScore), so it’s a no-brainer.
With that being the case, marketers need to design mobile-first journeys anchored by micro-moments in real-time. The main barrier? Earning opt-in for notifications and location sharing, and using them wisely.

5. The subtle power of niche audiences
Shouting marketing messages from the rooftops is so 2008. In 2018, big brands are finding value in cornering niche audiences that may be small in size but high in engagement and loyalty. Targeting these well-informed consumers with relevant content will be key in continuing these positive relationships.

6. Paid social marketing and native ads
The days of boundless (and unpaid) audience engagement on social media are over. With Facebook clamping down on organic reach, marketers need to allocate budgets to pay for boosting posts or getting on Facebook's News Feed. Creativity also pays off in 2018- whether it’s attracting audiences with live video events or finessing Ads in Facebook Messenger.    
Along those lines, 2018 is all about blending in with native ads, including search advertisements, sponsored listings, advertorials, recommended content, or seamlessly integrated display ads. Premium native ads not only play nicely with publishers websites, but they also deliver 400 percent higher click-through-rates (CTRs) on mobile devices than regular display ads (Polar). The key to it all: Delivering relevant, hyper-personalized experiences across all channels, powered by real-time consumer intelligence.

7. Spreading the message via owned properties
With social media and mobile notifications updating consumers on new content, it’s becoming less important where content is published. As long as content is searchable, relevant, and useable – users will find it. 2018 may actually see brands extract more value from publishing on their owned properties such as brand websites, e-commerce platforms, blogs, and mobile apps than on third-party sites.
There are three reasons powering this shift: First, content on owned property will by nature “live” where conversion (online shopping portals, etc.) is just a click away. Second, owned properties support consumer-specific personalization, for instance dynamic websites adjusted according to purchase history or path-to-site. And third, all that behavior and preference data will belong to the owners, not a third-party app or social platform.  

MEGA TREND: Artificial Intelligence
We already explored the 5 Ways AI Will Boost Personalization in Digital Marketing, so we’ll be seeing artificial intelligence go from cutting edge to status quo. According to Salesforce, industry insiders anticipate AI use will grow by 53% over the next two years.
Built into audience engagement platforms, AI will bring new levels of relevance into automatically delivered content. Instead of personally mining multiple streams of data by hand, AI can help recognize which channel and which contextually relevant messages are best for a consumer’s real-time situation.
In the bigger picture, AI will fundamentally disrupt the way customer journeys are conceived. As Selligent’s Chief Marketing Officer Nick Worth says, in the near future, “journeys won’t be a mapped and static experience with pathing... Following consumers and delivering on what they really need will begin to be possible as a result of AI.”
Looking to get ready for the challenges ahead? Make sure to also read our primer on Assessing the Value of Technology Investments.


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